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Make way for the progressive custodian leader

What is needed are leaders focused on the long-term picture, not their own short-term success

Have you observed how when a new (senior) leader joins a team/division/organisation they are typically expected to put their own 'mark' on it?

We call this a 'ruler' leader. Everyone’s eyes are on them; what will they do? What's their vision? What impact will they make? There are times when businesses need an overhaul and this kind of approach is perfectly reasonable. But most of the time it’s not the best strategy for anyone. In global organisations the 'ruler' leadership culture means strategies and tactics change every two to three years as senior leaders come and go.

This kind of short-sighted approach is too common in business. When organisations keep changing strategy and tactical approach too frequently it doesn't allow for previous strategies and plans to be carried out to completion. Add to this that many leaders take on leadership roles for a mere few years to further their career (and because it’s the norm).

It’s not sustainable, it’s costly and it’s demotivating for employees. Specifically, it can result in:

  • Staff becoming disenchanted with the continuous change as they don’t get to see the results
  • Constant 'chopping and changing' is costly; particularly when ideas are not carried through to completion where there could be a pay-off on the investment (in time, effort and money)
  • Leaders being tempted to make short-term decisions that are good for their own careers but are detrimental to the business longer-term
  • More (unnecessary) change in an already fast-changing world
  • People being weary of change and so resisting it

There’s a need, a desire and a passion for a new type of leadership. We call this 'progressive custodian' leadership.

There are leaders that operate like this already. But there’s not enough of them. A leader’s role should be to make the most of the resources they have been appointed to, and help them grow and flourish. Custodian leaders are very aware they are leading the team for a period of time only. They think of the legacy they are picking up when they join, and the legacy they want to leave behind when they move on.

When a progressive custodian leader joins an organisation they look at the existing business, its goals, priorities, and resources and think: how can I build on this? How can I progress what's already underway (assuming it is still viable)? How can I, by adding my experience and skills, fast-forward the journey to success?

The speed of change we are all experiencing means leadership is developing as we speak. What was expected just a few years ago has already changed. Leadership is becoming more collective; no-one has all the answers. A leader needs to become the unifying factor that gets people working well together so that the best ideas can be created collaboratively.

It’s high time to rethink leadership as we know it, in order to be successful in the future. Make way for the progressive custodian leader.

Mandy Flint and Elisabet Vinberg Hearn are authors of Leading Teams – 10 Challenges: 10 Solutions